Blue Bird is not only a school bus manufacturer anymore.
The company based in Fort Valley, Georga is partnering with Lightning eMotors to go after the electric step van, RV and specialty vehicle markets with a custom Class 5 and 6 chassis that was unveiled last week at ACT Expo in Long Beach, California.
The prototype, unveiled on May 11, is a modular design for vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 16,000 to 26,000 pounds that allows for battery configurations ranging from 70kWh to 225kWh, in order to support a vehicle range of up to 175 miles on a single charge. The battery packs take between one and 12 hours to fully charge, depending on the charging infrastructure.
There are three wheelbase options of 178, 190 and 208 inches. Blue Bird President and CEO Matt Stevenson said during the news conference that the chassis offers additional safety features such as hill-hold and improved turning radius in tight spaces
Blue Bird said the OEM engineered and certified Class 5-6 electric chassis is expected to enter into production late next year.
Britton Smith, the new head of electrification and strategy brought on by Stevenson last year, said the stripped chassis diversifies more than simply Blue Bird’s portfolio and provides more stable work for plant employees.
“Historically, school bus manufacturing is more toward the summer months and less in the winter months,” he commented to School Transportation News on the exhibit floor. “This does allow us to balance out the manufacturing cyclicality a bit. That said, we are always adjusting manufacturing capacity on our chassis line as needed.”
Gabrielle Young, Blue Bird’s director of marketing, later noted that school districts could eventually be interested in purchasing a delivery van powered by the Lightning eMotors chassis for food service or maintenance and facilities departments. She said there could be a use case for school systems under a GSA contract.
School bus fans will recall that Blue Bird first produced a luxury RV in the mid-1960s, later rebranded as the “Wanderlodge.” That vehicle was built on an All American chassis and, aside from the color, its outside appearance closely resembled the school bus model. But the inside was far more luxurious. It ceased production in the late 1980s.
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